New names for old

This is a column by M.S. Prabhakara, a distinguished journalist, political commentator and novelist, who as Special Correspondent of The Hindu covered north-east India (1983-1994), and South Africa and its neighbours (1994-2002). Based in Guwahati, he will be in Bangalore till the end of the year. This column, “irregularly regular” in the author’s words, will usually be carried on Tuesday, and will be on issues of culture and politics in Karnataka.

Is it right to say that Bangalore is in for a ‘renaming’ as Bengaluru, come November 1? Or is it going to be Bengalooru, or any other variation of the vowels if numerological considerations too were to influence the spelling of the ‘new’ name? Indeed, not merely Bangalore, but a whole slew of cities and towns of the State are apparently due to be ‘renamed’: Mysore to Mysuru or Mysooru, Belgaum to Belagavi, Gulbarga to Kalaburgi, Shimoga to Shivamogga, Mangalore to Mangaluru and so on. The changeover is due to be formalised by the next Rajyotsava Day, coinciding with the conclusion of the yearlong celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the re-unification of the original 19 Kannada-speaking districts that were spread over four administrative units: the nine districts of the princely state of Mysore; the four districts that were part of the Bombay Presidency; the three districts that were originally part of the princely state of Hyderabad; the two districts of the Madras Presidency; and Coorg, as it then was before becoming Kodagu. When the re-unification of these Kannada-speaking areas took place in 1956, the enlarged composite State was still called Mysore; it changed its name to Karnataka only 17 years later with the passing of the Mysore State (Alteration of Name) Act, 1973.

For this native speaker of the language (and somewhat of a minor writer), the impending ‘change’ of the names is one of the most contrived newsworthy events. The change in the name of the State from Mysore to Karnataka was a genuine change of name; however, what is to take place in November is simply the way the name Bangalore is going to be transliterated in the English/Roman alphabet and script. Despite the routine references to an impending ‘change of name’ in newspaper reports and even official pronouncements, the name, Bangalore, is not being changed; rather, there is going to be a change in the way the name, as it is pronounced in Kannada, is going to be transliterated in English in a spelling of closer approximation to its Kannada pronunciation.

The only genuine change of name in recent times is Madras becoming ‘Chennai’; all the rest, Cawnpore to Kanpur many years ago, or the more recent Bombay/Mumbai, Calcutta/Kolkata, Trivandrum/Thiruvananthapuram and several other similar changes only constitute a re-spelling of the name approximating more closely to the way these place names are pronounced by the native speakers.

In the case of Kannada names, the supposed novelty and change and the contrived satisfaction or resentment over the ‘new’ name is particularly silly. A most evident feature of the language as she is spoke and writ is that virtually every Kannada word ends in a vowel sound. This is so even in respect of common English words that are now part of Kannada vocabulary, such as office (aafisu), room (roomu), rule (rulu), towel (tavalu or tawlu), and numerous other words of everyday usage, words that in due course are bound to find a place in standard Kannada dictionaries. It is interesting that while a 19th century classic like Kittel’s Kannada-English dictionary includes ‘rulu’ (rule), meaning line and its quintessential Kannada adaptation into ‘rulu donne’ (ruler with which one drew lines and was also on occasion beaten by one’s teacher when young), modern Kannada dictionaries spurn the word, its adaptation and usage. The insularity of modern Kannada lexicographers does stand in contrast to the natural acceptance of ‘gilas’ (glass) in Assamese and its inclusion in standard Assamese dictionaries like Chandrakanta Abhidhan (1933).

So how can Bangalore be anything else but Bengaluru or Bengalooru?

M.S. Prabhakara

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